FORTVILLE — The wins are mounting for the Mt. Vernon boys basketball team, and so is the Marauders’ confidence.
Riding a three-game winning streak entering Saturday’s matchup against Class 4A Hamilton Southeastern, the 4A Marauders collectively added a fourth, singing the net from all angles to win 59-51 in front of an energetic home crowd.
“We have a unique depth of talent,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty remarked after his team snapped a two-game losing trend to Hamilton Southeastern. “When we move the ball and allow everyone to play to their strengths, we’re able to showcase that talent more.”
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Erick Shepherd embraced the spotlight, shooting a blistering 7 of 10, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, to finish with a game-high 17 points.
Michael Ertel added 16 points as Mt. Vernon evened the series 19-all in the past 30 years against the Royals (11-6).
As a team, the Marauders buried shots at 50 percent (19 of 38) and were 8 of 16 from 3-point range recovering quickly from an early 10-7 deficit with timely buckets and big plays in the clutch.
“Credit to our guys, they really pursued the goal in the second quarter and beyond of moving the ball,” Daugherty said. “It changed the way the game opened up for us offensively, created more space and more opportunities.”
Since losing on a buzzer-beating jumper to Hoosier Heritage Conference foe New Castle nearly a month ago, the Marauders have made the most at every turn, improving to 12-2 overall with wins in nine of their past 10 games.
No. 12 was all but secured from 19-feet, 9-inches.
Trailing 16-11 in the second quarter after leading 7-2 in the first, the Marauders fueled their comeback with a 10-0 run, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from senior guard Miles Wayer, who had nine points.
“In the first quarter, we just came out too excited and wanted to do too much,” Ertel said. “We settled down and really emphasized moving the ball in the second.
“We’re driving and looking for our shot but also the pass. We had a bunch of open looks today. The guys are doing a great job of finding each other.”
Working inside and out, Mt. Vernon padded its margin 23-18 by halftime behind a James McCloud putback in the paint before the horn sounded, which unfolded off a heads-up rebound and touch pass from Michael Thompson.
Three straight treys from Shepherd and Ertel put the Marauders ahead 39-28 in the third quarter. Wayer and Ertel were a combined 6 of 11 from deep.
Making every possession count as he went toe-to-toe with Hamilton Southeastern’s 6-foot-6 junior Zach Gunn, a Division-I recruit, Shepherd dominated in the third with 10 points.
“I wanted to be aggressive but also smart. I was looking for the good shot and the open shot. We had a talk before the game about sharing the ball,” Shepherd said. “I think that was a big help for us.”
His final shot dropped at the buzzer as the 6-6 forward soared through the lane and past the Royals defense for a stretch layup to push Mt. Vernon’s lead to 41-30.
A Shepherd assist to McCloud for a layup gave the Marauders their largest lead at 12 points early in the fourth.
Matching Gunn in points, Shepherd also added four rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot.
“(Shepherd) played like a man tonight,” said Daugherty, who was honored before the game for reaching the 150-career coaching win plateau two games prior. “When he plays that way, he’s awfully good.”
McCloud had six rebounds and Wayer and Ertel each dished out a pair of assists.
Gunn hauled in a game-high nine rebounds and a pair of free throws by the big man cut Mt. Vernon’s lead to 49-41, but the Marauders shot 10 of 12 from the foul line in the final 1:32 and cruised to victory.
Thompson converted 6 of 6 free-throw attempts to go with his five rebounds and four assists.
The Marauders (12-2, 3-1) face a back-to-back weekend coming up with a road game at Connersville on Friday before hosting HHC foe Delta (11-4, 2-1) to close out the month.
Their first three games in February pit them against 2A Frankton, 4A Noblesville and high-scoring 6-5 John Kiser, and sixth-ranked 4A Lawrence Central and McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy.
“Towards the end of our schedule it definitely gets tougher,” Shepherd said. “This is a good start for us.”